By Alexa Thompson
The nature of a work environment can vary wildly from one organisation to the next. Yet, despite this variance, research consistently supports the importance of a positive mindset for employee satisfaction and organisational success.
Though ideas of positive psychology in the workplace have taken years to integrate into corporate culture, some of the world´s largest companies are finally embracing the potential of their employees and recognising the importance of their psychological well-being in order to reach their potential. Furthermore, companies that embrace employee individuality are finding a notable difference in their bottom line.
As nations’ economies grow and industrialise, there is almost always an increased need for labour. This was certainly the case in the US during the industrial boom of the 1920s and the post-World War II growth as well. However, developing industries often create issues regarding their employee relations. Low wages, long hours and impersonal managers who view employees as a means to an end have been shown to have a severe impact on employee motivation. This was evident throughout the first half of the 20th century as worker dissatisfaction led to employee unrest and the rise of labour unions. These unions, at times, created an even greater divide between management and employee.
Dr Harry Levinson, an educator at Harvard and MIT among other universities, was one of the first researchers to illustrate how psychoanalytic theories and methods could be used to motivate employees. In Levinson´s view, a psychological contract must exist between employees and employers, laying out the expectations that each group has for the other. When this contract is broken, employees become disgruntled and may even fall into despair. Dr. Levinson was among the first psychologists to postulate a connection between thwarted career aspirations and depression.
Levinson believed that in order to build a healthy workplace culture, companies should be “learning organisations” in which leaders and management act as role models to employees, offering assistance and allowing them to bring their own skills, ideas and talents to the job.
For employers, the advantages of a content-engaged workforce include increased productivity, greater company loyalty and of course a pleasant work environment, free of unnecessary but common anxieties. In fact, a University of Kansas study found that one psychologically distressed employee could cost an organisation roughly $75 (R620) per week, translating to at least $7500 (R62 000) per week for companies of one-hundred employees or more.
Today, human resource management has become an integral part of almost every major company and organisation, bringing with it a new concern for how employee well-being can influence a company´s productivity. Recently, a Wall Street Journal article discussed how employers such as UBS, American Express and KPMG have hired trainers who draw on psychological research to inspire workers to take a positive attitude. “Psychologically well employees are better performers, ” says Thomas Wright, professor of management at Kansas State University. “Since higher employee performance is inextricably tied to an organization´s bottom line, employee well-being can play a key role in establishing a competitive advantage.”
Companies that still take an antiquated view of their human capital as the proverbial cogs in a wheel may do well to re-evaluate their mindset or risk being left behind by those organisations that foster innovation and employee well-being.
To try your hand at a little “beginners” positive psychology, read Regenesys´ tips for relieving stress.
Alexa Thompson writes for an online resource about psychology, including organisational, or “work”, psychology and sports psychology, both of which are meant to encourage people to their best performances.